Experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) was generated in SJL and B10.PL mice by using the synthetic myelin basic protein peptides. Inflammation in brain and spinal cord preceded clinical signs of disease. Infiltrating lymphocytes were predominantly Lyt1+ (CD5+), L3T4+ (CD4+) T cells, until day 18. After that, F4/80+ monocyte/macrophages outnumbered T cells. Ia+ cells were microglia, macrophages, and endothelial cells, but Ia was not detectable on astrocytes in this EAE model. Ia+ endothelial cells appeared later in the disease than Ia+ microglia and macrophages, suggesting that antigen presentation at the blood-brain barrier is not initially responsible for inflammation. Cells staining for interferon gamma, interleukin 2 (IL-2), and IL-2 receptors were more prominent than IL-4, IL-5, lymphotoxin (LT), and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), which occurred transiently in the second week and were associated with fewer cells. TNF-alpha and LT were never seen in spinal cord, suggesting that these cytokines are not responsible for initiation of clinical disease. Few or no cells stained for IL-6, IL-1, or transforming growth factor beta. Control animals injected with complete Freund's adjuvant in saline or control antigen demonstrated no inflammatory cell infiltration or cytokine production. Thus, our findings suggest a peptide-induced EAE model in which Th1 T-cell-macrophage interactions result in the disease process.